Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 21, 2010

Far from Ideal: Gaza Blockade Eased

Following international pressure and diplomatic discussions with Egyptian, US and Quartet representatives, Israel’s security cabinet announced Sunday that it would change its blockade policy for the Gaza Strip.  At present only 114 items are allowed into the Strip, but according to the announced easing of the Gaza blockade a new “black list” of unpermitted goods will replace the current highly restrictive policy. The PM Binyamin Netanyahu confirmed that all goods, other than “weapons and materials Hamas uses”, will  be allowed into the Palestinian territory while adding that a finalized list of items not allowed will be released as soon as possible.

While the exact definition of a “material Hamas uses” is not clear, the announcement certainly paves the way for humanitarian aid and some construction materials to soon enter the Gaza Strip.  Heavy limitations, however, remain on the construction materials allowed, as they must be for Palestinian Authority-approved projects and kept under international supervision.  Netanyahu described these new allowances as “eliminating Hamas’ main propoganda claim and allow[ing] [Israel]…to face [their] real concerns in the realm of security.” (more…)

June 17, 2010

Double Standards

Helen Thomas’ misinterpreted remarks about Jews in Palestine led to the end of her accomplished career.  Meanwhile, Senator Schumer of New York is allowed to say he supports the continued “economic strangulation” of Gaza, without anyone even blinking twice.

Schumer is a powerful politician; he is the vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.  His position in the government makes the fact that he can make such comments without press coverage or any sort of accountability is especially perturbing.

Schumer, speaking at the Orthodox Union, went on to blame the identity of Palestinians for their situation:  “Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution… They don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Both of these statements are blatantly false, as most Palestinians support a two-state solution, and Muslims consider the Torah a holy book and David a prophet.  He also blames Gazans for the actions of Hamas, and states that they can only have economic advancement  “when there’s some moderation and cooperation.” (more…)

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

The Separation Barrier

A mix of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers, have all united in opposition to the construction of the separation barrier in an area around Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Environmentalists and settlers of Gush Etzion are opposed to the destruction of the natural landscape.  Also, a development company called Givat Yael, though self-interested, drew up an alternative route that Israel rejected.  The alternative would have met security goals, had a smaller impact on the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, and allowed the company to continue with its development plans (Haaretz).  Israel’s rejection of the alternative gives more credence to the idea that the wall is not motivated by security, but rather demographics, as the proposed placement of the barrier blocks off the village. (more…)

June 3, 2010

Aftermath of the Gaza flotilla mission

Activists are returning to their respective countries and funerals are underway for the nine slain activists in Turkey, one of whom was a 19-year-old dual U.S. citizen.  However, the atmosphere of the international community continues to exhibit volatility.

More accounts of the events are pouring in as the activists return. Following the attack, Israel had created an information blackout, barring the captured activists from speaking to media in Israel, but as they return home their stories are emerging.  Bulent Yildrim, the head of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said: “I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people.”  Norman Paech, a former German politician accounts: “The soldiers were all masked, carrying big guns and were extremely brutal.”  Haneen Zoubi, an Arab-Israeli MP claims Israeli vessels fired on her ship a few minutes before soldiers descended from helicopters.  You can also hear an account of the events from former ambassador and former CNI board member Edward Peck, here. (more…)

June 1, 2010

Update on the Gaza Flotilla

Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.

In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.

Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating

“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”

Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?

The Gaza Flotilla

The international community is in a furor after yesterday’s events on the Gaza flotilla that left at least 9 activists dead by the hands of the IDF.  Major protests were sparked around the world, from Paris to Istanbul, against the actions of Israel.  Strong condemnation was elicited from the UN, though the U.S. had it watered down a bit, Turkish PM Erdogan, who called the raid a “massacre,” the EU, and many other nations.  It is clear that most of the world is united such condemnation of Israel, and the state is facing further isolation than ever before.

It is difficult to fathom what went wrong on this humanitarian mission, and the UN has called for an impartial inquiry into the raid.  Naturally, there are two differing narratives.  The Free Gaza flotilla left Cyprus with the intention of trying to open up three year blockade on Gaza by delivering  10,000 tons of aid.  Israel intercepted the flotilla 40 miles away from the Gaza coast, though its formal blockade of Gaza only extends 25 miles off the coast.  When the flotilla said its destination was Gaza and would not stop, Israeli forces proceeded to board the ships.  Under the UN Charter on the Law of the Sea, a vessel can only be boarded in international waters if it is suspected to be transporting weapons or weapons of mass destruction.  Seaborne special forces, which are trained for combat and not crowd control, proceeded to board. (more…)

May 27, 2010

The Gaza Blockade

Israel claims the borders of Gaza are closed in order to block out violent forces and ensure protection of Israeli citizens.  Why, then, does a Turkish-led convoy of international pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian supply intimidate Israel?

Israel has said it would block the 9 fleet ship, which is carrying over 20 million Euros worth of supplies, and 700 activists.  If allowed, the supplies would be the largest amount given to the Palestinian territories.

The convoy is spearheaded by the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) of Istanbul, and the fleet includes ships from Britain, Greece, Algeria, Kuwait, Malaysia and Ireland. The fact that the parties are international and non-political in their advocacy of human rights shows how paranoid Israel is through its decision to block the IHH. (more…)

February 5, 2010

“You can’t eradicate poverty whilst you have an occupation” ~ Oxfam officer

Filed under: Human rights,Palestinian economy,West Bank — Katya Reed @ 11:21 am

~ by Katya Reed, from the occupied West Bank

(Interview with John Prideaux-Brune, Country Director for the OPT and Israel at Oxfam GB, Part 2.  Part 1, on Gaza, was here.)

“You can have development under an occupation but you can’t eradicate poverty.” That thought-provoking statement came from John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam GB’s Country Director for Israel and the OPTs, during the interview I conducted with him January 12 in his office in East Jerusalem.

Prideaux-Brune explained that impoverishment is now widely recognized to be a condition where one is denied control over one’s life. Poverty is about being denied a voice. “You can be the richest person in the world but if you have no voice you are still in poverty,” he said.

Military rule anywhere, of course, denies a voice to citizens. But rule by an occupying foreign army does so even more, as is generally recognized in the special provisions international humanitarian law makes to try to protect the welfare of people living under foreign military occupation.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the 4.3 million civilian residents have now been living under foreign military occupation for nearly 43 years– and the mechanisms for sustaining that occupation have become extremely complex over time.  In the West Bank, the land mass has been sliced and diced into five different kinds of governance zones:

  • East Jerusalem has been outright annexed by Israel.
  • Israel has also, more quietly, extended its civil law system to the many large areas occupied or controlled by Israel’s illegal settlements, which thereby, in effect, annexes them.
  • In other areas, not directly controlled by the settlement blocs, the Palestinian population comes under the undiluted control of the IDF’s ‘civil affairs’ branch. These expanses of land– which total around 60% of the West Bank’s entire terrain– were designated, under Oslo, as ‘Area C’.
  • Other areas of land were designated ‘Area B’. In these patches, the (‘interim’) Palestinian Authority exercises control over civilian functions while the IDF retains control over security affairs.
  • In the other small patches designated ‘Area A’, the PA is supposed to control both civilian functions and security– though in practice, the IDF still moves and operates quite freely within the cities and towns that are designated ‘Area A’.

In the interview with Prideaux-Brune, he expressed particular concern for the situation of Palestinians in Area C.  In those areas, he noted, the Israeli government continues to deny Oxfam GB and their local partners permission for water storage tanks during a drought and the rehabilitation of tin shacks for impoverished Bedouin communities.

He concluded wryly that in some portions of Area C,  “Pretty soon you’re going to have to have a permit to breathe”.

ISRAEL STOPS WORK VISAS FOR OXFAM & OTHER NGOS IN OPT

At around the time I conducted the interview, the Israeli authorities were introducing tight new restrictions on the ability of international humanitiarian-aid and development groups like Oxfam to operate in the OPTs. In early January the Interior Ministry announced that it would no longer grant work permits to Oxfam and other major international organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  Instead, Israel issues employees like Prideaux-Brune only ‘B-1′ tourist visas that don’t formally allow the holder the right to work, even though Israeli officials have assured these employees that Israel understands their work in the OPT will continue.

The new visa restrictions do not apply to those organizations working in Israel or the settlements throughout the West Bank, in which case NGOs are simply granted work visas for Israel.  What Prideaux-Brune and others are gravely concerned about is the “slippery slope” that such policies might portend.

While at this point the tourist visas may be granted to employees on a reliable basis, Prideaux-Brune voiced his grave concern about this pattern of further constrictions on international NGOs in the OPT.  Having no legal basis to work in the country you are based in increases the stress on staff and also makes recruitment much more difficult.

“YOU CAN’T ERADICATE POVERTY WHILST YOU HAVE AN OCCUPATION”

Prideaux-Brune began summarizing Oxfam GB’s work in the West Bank with a disclaimer.  He emphasized that while Oxfam GB does believe it can meaningfully support Palestinian development efforts, it is well aware that no matter how expansive development efforts are, poverty will persist as long as the occupation continues.

(more…)

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